Media frenzy: The case of Dewani's sexuality

Shrien Dewani. (Reuters)

Shrien Dewani. (Reuters)

“Dewani admits he is bisexual.” So what?

“Bisexual Dewani underwent hormone treatment.” Yes, and?

“Revelation: Dewani is bisexual.” Your point?

I am not quoting verbatim but, if you were anywhere near the internet on Tuesday, these were just some of the headlines being thrown around by publications in an effort to report on the Shrien Dewani trial.

If you were nowhere near the internet then you probably saw one of the many headlines on today’s front pages. The media houses went big on the #Bisexual trend that broke out on Twitter yesterday after a two sentence statement from Dewani that said he had sex with men as well as women.

On day one of the proceedings, the court heard a plea document submitted by Dewani, which was read out loud by his lawyer.

The document revealed details about the nature of his relationship with his wife Anni and some about his life in general. Mostly, it contained Dewani’s detailed account of events pertaining to the hijacking, which occurred that fateful night, and led, ultimately, to the death of his wife.

The events detailed in the document are, or should have been, the focus.
They are, after all, why Dewani finds himself standing trial, charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and conspiracy to commit these crimes. (He has pleaded not guilty to all five counts).

Instead, the media went with the one thing that had nothing to do with what makes someone a potential wife killer or not – they led with the fact that he was bisexual.

They handpicked two or three sentences from a document – which was long and more relevant to the trial in many more ways than those sentences – so that they could try a man not only for the murder of his wife but also to invent, so to speak, a motive for having done so: his sexual preferences.

Newspapers bought into the click-bait
That detail was, because of its sensationalism, transformed into the digital thing we all know and love – click-bait. Who cares about the rest of the information that was packed into that document when this is the one thing people will click on?

The bisexuality bait bled into newspapers, which hoped to achieve the same “success” in reporting the story.

Would more people buy newspapers because Dewani is bisexual? Or because being bisexual was being demonised? And what, in fact, did this “revelation”, as it was called by many published stories, have to do with the fact that he might have had his wife murdered?

Ja, êk het seks met mans [Yes, I have sex with men]” read Beeld’s front page, quoting Dewani in big, bold letters.

Why are the media trying to create something contentious out of something that really isn’t? It is irresponsible reporting and, more than that, it does nothing for the causes of sexuality and gender roles, causes that are already fuelled by age-old burdens and misunderstandings.

Should we not be doing a better a job of this?

At first glance, the Beeld headline, for example, is essentially telling the reader, who may or may not be ignorant on the subject and “taboos” of bisexuality, or sexuality at large, that this Indian man participated in sex with men, and so that’s probably why he killed his wife.

Trial by media? I think so.

The ignorance fuelled by homophobia
By the time the trend had gained traction, very few were concerned about the other details of the case. Very few kept their focus on the contentiousness of the subject matter, which is that this is day one of a trial of a man who possibly paid people to kill his wife on their honeymoon.

Instead, many were amused, and very vocal about their amusement, that this man swung both ways, so to speak. Outpourings of ignorance, fuelled by homophobia, were shared at a machine gun rate and, more than that, the cause of sexuality and all those affiliated with participating in positive discourse and the fight for human rights were dragged back by about 400 years.

Luckily, it did start a conversation, and there was backlash from the public who did think critically about this sort of thing.

But it is unfortunate that the media once again forgot how to be leaders in society, and that the backlash was mostly aimed at them.

Here are some examples of headlines and reactions to them as well as the reporting:

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee became Africa’s first social media editor in a newsroom at the Mail & Guardian, where she went on to work as deputy digital editor and a disruptor of the peace through a weekly column. A stint as the program manager for Impact Africa – a grant-disbursing fund for African digital journalists – followed. She now pursues her own writing full time by enraging readers of EWN and Women 24 with weekly and bi-monthly columns respectively. She also contributes to the Sunday Times and a range of other publications. Mohamed Dawjee's inaugural book of essays: Sorry, not sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa, is due for release by Penguin Random House in April 2018.Follow her on Twitter: @sage_of_absurd Read more from Haji Mohamed Dawjee